What happens to a declared, uninitialized variable in C? Does it have a value?

Static variables (file scope and function static) are initialized to zero:

int x; // zero
int y = 0; // also zero

void foo() {
    static int x; // also zero

Non-static variables (local variables) are indeterminate. Reading them prior to assigning a value results in undefined behavior.

void foo() {
    int x;
    printf("%d", x); // the compiler is free to crash here

In practice, they tend to just have some nonsensical value in there initially – some compilers may even put in specific, fixed values to make it obvious when looking in a debugger – but strictly speaking, the compiler is free to do anything from crashing to summoning demons through your nasal passages.

As for why it’s undefined behavior instead of simply “undefined/arbitrary value”, there are a number of CPU architectures that have additional flag bits in their representation for various types. A modern example would be the Itanium, which has a “Not a Thing” bit in its registers; of course, the C standard drafters were considering some older architectures.

Attempting to work with a value with these flag bits set can result in a CPU exception in an operation that really shouldn’t fail (eg, integer addition, or assigning to another variable). And if you go and leave a variable uninitialized, the compiler might pick up some random garbage with these flag bits set – meaning touching that uninitialized variable may be deadly.

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